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Good and not-so-good excuses to get out of work for a job interview

It’s one of the only situations in life where the correct thing to do may be to tell a white lie. Unless the hiring company is willing to meet with you off the clock, you’ll likely need to spin a tale to sneak away from work for a job interview.

In some situations, it’s not overly difficult. You tell your boss you have an appointment and you’ll be back in a few hours. But in other instances, you may feel compelled to offer more details, especially if you’re actively looking for a new job and need multiple stays away from the office. Here’s a general framework of excuses you should never employ, as well as a few of the safer, smarter options.

Bad Excuses

One that insinuates irresponsibility: Here’s a common pitfall. You are so worried about providing a believable excuse, you choose one that makes you look bad. In some situations, the impression you leave can be worse than if your boss found out you had an interview.

As a former recruiter, I once had a candidate tell me that, in an effort to get away with missing work, they called their current boss after the interview and said they went out the night before and slept through work. Not a good choice. Never choose an excuse that makes you look like a bad employee, and always notify your boss before you are supposed to be in the office, not afterwards.

Bad news involving a family member: If you feel compelled to provide a specific excuse, it’s rather dangerous to involve someone else who is close to you, especially if it is of “serious” nature. What happens at the company Christmas party or a work outing that involves spouses or kids? Not only are you involving a second person, but you’ve stretched an excuse into a lie.

People can understand if it comes to light that a “dentist’s appointment” was, in actuality, an interview, but an excuse like “my son was in a car accident” is tough to look past. Even if you get the job, you risk burning bridges. It’s best to avoid the serious excuse.

Anything your boss can help you with: You say that something small and inconvenient came up, like a flat tire or your nanny didn’t show, and you’ll be a few hours late. Well what if someone from the office can help in that situation? Banks and other larger financial firms have back-up daycare to guard against their employees missing work due to issues with their children. Some firms even offer concierge services to help settle small annoyances. Know these and prepare accordingly.

One that doesn’t give you enough time: If an interview is going well, often a one-hour chat can quickly become three. The last thing you want to do while trying to make a good impression is telling someone you need to walk away. Give yourself plenty of berth when it comes to timing.

Doing it Right

The easiest, most professional way to get out of work for an interview is to not have to do it at all. Inquire if a hiring company can meet you before or after hours. Even if they say no, they won’t be taken back by the request. If anything, it will make you look like a responsible employee.

If the interview must happen during work, you may want to consider taking a vacation day. Then there is no excuse needed and you won’t have to worry about timing or what to do with your interview clothes (another significant problem we’ll address later).

If that is not an option, ask for a really early or really late interview time. Your absence won’t be noticed as much and you won’t need to concern yourself with the “before” and the “after” fallout at your current office.

As for excuses, it’s best to be as vague as possible. “I have an appointment” works 90% of the time. Often there is no need to go into more detail and, quite literally, you aren’t fibbing. If you feel you need to provide more, stick with the standard doctor’s appointment, dentist’s appointment, meeting with you tax professional or contractors need to work on the house. Try to work from home that day if at all possible.

When expecting a series of interviews, either with one company or with different firms, dental problems may be a good excuse. Typically, people need to go back several times. Just don’t make this mistake.

The Dry Cleaner Trick

What do you do if you work in the city and take public transportation? If the interview is at the end of the day, where do you store your suit while at the office? The old industry trick is to drop it off at the dry cleaner days before the interview. You then go to work in your normal clothes, put in a good day of work and head to the dry cleaner to pick up your suit. Find a bathroom to change into and tuck your business casual clothes in your bag. If the interview is first thing in the morning, drop your suit off at the dry cleaner afterwards. Just don’t forget a change of clothes.


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